North Dakota House, Senate disagree on coronavirus spending

October 28, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — House and Senate budget writers in the North Dakota Legislature adjourned Wednesday night after failing to reconcile differences on how some of the federal coronavirus aid available to the state should be spent.

Republican-led House and Senate appropriations committees during a marathon day at the state Capitol agreed largely on an assortment of initiatives ranging from road, water and bridge improvements and energy projects to workforce development and childcare programs.

But the Senate’s proposal for a $25 million upgrade at an administrative building at Minot State University and a $30 million revolving loan fund for hospitals were among the sticking points for House negotiators. The committees plan to resume negotiations Thursday.

The $1.1 billion in federal coronavirus funds the state received in June represents the single-largest deposit into state coffers in history. The money currently is parked in short-term CDs, earning less than 1% interest.

A previous appropriation of $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus aid last year already has been spent or earmarked for spending.

Lawmakers and others submitted a wish list that totaled $9.2 billion for the recent round of money. The appropriations committees narrowed the requests after several meetings in the past month.

Although the money didn’t have to be spent until the end of 2026 under federal rules, many lawmakers pushed to spend the recent round of money quickly.

In the most recent round of federal funding, the Legislature already has designated all but about $700 million of the money on construction and other infrastructure projects.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Ray Holmberg and his counterpart in the House, Jeff Delzer, have said priority for the funding was given to projects for which there is an immediate need, and those that won’t require a commitment of funds from taxpayers in the future.

Before adjourning Wednesday night, Senate negotiators had endorsed spending all but about $21 million of the federal aid, while House committee set aside more than $80 million.

The biggest ticket item tentatively approved by both committees — and pushed by GOP Gov. Doug Burgum — was $150 million for natural gas infrastructure in the state’s oil patch

Burgum last month recommended legislators quickly spend the money on infrastructure, economic development and other projects to avoid inflation and rising construction costs.

Once approved by both House and Senate appropriations committees, the spending suggestions will be forwarded in the form of legislation to the full GOP-Legislature, which will debate the bill when they meet Nov. 8 in either a reconvened or special session.